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Uproar after Greens and Liberals move for cannabis inquiry

The ACT's parliament is set to hold an inquiry into a proposal to legalise cannabis, leading to a blow-up between Labor and the Greens.

The Greens sided with the Liberal party to refer Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson's private member's bill that would allow people to get high off their own supply to the tripartisan health committee in the Assembly on Wednesday.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson. Labor says they were caught unaware by the Greens support of a Liberal motion for an inquiry into the cannabis bill, even though Shane Rattenbury told them he wanted the bill referred. Credit:Karleen Minney

The move triggered an uproar from Mr Pettersson and Labor minister Chris Steel, who then accused the Greens of delaying the legislation because it was not a Greens bill.

“I think people watching would be really scratching their heads on the Greens position on this," Mr Steel said. Mr Pettersson even commandeered a Greens meme, switching the tagline "just legalise it" to "just delay it".

However Mr Rattenbury told the Canberra Times Labor knew the Greens would support an inquiry, and were "relaxed" about it.

Labor confirmed Mr Rattenbury notified the Chief Minister's office he would push for an inquiry about 1pm, but they had believed the motion would come from the Greens.

They felt they had no choice to support a Greens referral as they held the balance of power, but when the referral had come from the Liberals, they could not support it. Mr Steel and Mr Pettersson were not aware of the arrangement.

Liberal Jeremy Hanson lapped up the drama, telling the chamber it was a "squabble about who can get there first, to be the most progressive".

Both Labor and the Greens support the bill to legalise cannabis in principle, but have different ideas about what the legislation should look like. Credit:Karleen Minney

He said the Greens support for an inquiry was recognition that the bill was a "dog's breakfast" and Mr Pettersson had "tripped over his own legislation" in his "rush to be the biggest leftie".

He suggested Mr Rattenbury was "a bit narky ... Mr Pettersson got there first".

However, Mr Rattenbury said he supported the referral as "significant" amendments had been foreshadowed, and he believed the best place to work that out was in a committee.

Earlier, both Labor and the Greens had laid out their support for legalising the drug, but outlined different and distinct amendments.

Labor wanted to set a cap on the number of plants a household could have and keep the limit of individual plants at two instead of the four Mr Pettersson had suggested.

Liberal MLA Jeremy Hanson said Greens and Labor were squabbling over who was the most progressive. Credit:Karleen Minney

The Greens, however, wanted to introduce provisions so the drug could be grown hydroponically.

Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur said "looking at [the] bill with the eyes of a Canberra gardener", the city's extreme weather and poor soil meant it would be tough to cultivate the plant. Earlier in the day, Mr Pettersson was forced to admit the bill could lead to a spike in black market trade, as people sourced plants to set up their own supply. "For an individual to grow cannabis they will need to engage with the black market. That already occurs. I’m confident given time individuals will be able to grow their own legal supply of cannabis even if it originates on the black market," Mr Pettersson said.

Mr Hanson also said that the bill would lead to Canberra becoming a "drug dealers' paradise", as coupled with the lack of anti-consorting laws it would mean convicted drug traffickers could set up a sharehouse in which they could legally cultivate two plants each to bag up and sell later.

Told that trafficking cannabis would still be a crime, Mr Hanson suggested it could be an overnight operation.

There are also continuing concerns about the legal validity of the legislation, as it conflicts with the Commonwealth criminal code.

Mr Pettersson said he had legal advice which said it wouldn't be a problem, but then refused to release the advice publicly.

Mr Hanson said he'd written to the federal attorney-general about the conflict but was yet to receive a reply.

The ACT's Chief Police Officer also appeared to contradict a key rationale for the bill on the radio on Wednesday morning.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr told the Assembly legalising cannabis in this way would help reduce users' interactions with law enforcement.

Mr Rattenbury also drew on federal policing figures, which he said showed a disproportionate level of police resources was tied up targeting cannabis users.

Ms Le Couteur said she'd been repeatedly raided by police in helicopters and on quad bikes while growing cannabis near Nimbin. She was once arrested but the warrant was later found to be illegal.

"It did seem that the war on drugs was a war on us, a war on hippies, a war on the poor, a war on young people. A war on anyone who was different," Ms Le Couteur said.

But ACT Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson said ACT Policing did not target users, instead focusing on criminal gangs and large-scale traffickers.

"From memory, we only issued 50 [Simple Cannabis Offence Notices] last year and for the most part they were associated with other criminality," Mr Johnson said.

These issues and more will likely form the nexus of the inquiry to be conducted over the coming months by the health committee.

The bill will not be able to be debated on the floor until the committee reports back on June 6.

Mr Rattenbury dismissed Mr Pettersson and Mr Steel's assessment that the inquiry was a "delaying tactic", as he said the bill had always been intended to pass in about July.

Mr Steel contended the inquiry was unnecessary, as new standing orders meant every amendment had to go through the scrutiny committee.

However, Mr Rattenbury said the process would "value-add" to the legislation. Originally published here: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/act/uproar-after-greens-and-liberals-move-for-cannabis-inquiry-20190220-p50yyd.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_feed

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